The Department of Defense announced late Thursday that it plans to change the charter of a 51-year-old panel of civilian advisors that has been criticized recently as a tool of feminists. 

Supporters of the panel have seen the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Service, known as DACOWITS, as instrumental to making positive changes for women in the U.S. military. 

Major Ben Owens, a spokesman for the Department of Defense, told Fox News the Department is "developing a new charter which will enhance the role and the effectiveness of the committee, while broadening its focus." He hoped to have additional details next week. 

The Pentagon had never previously failed to re-authorize the panel's charter since its creation in 1951. 

Conservatives have argued for nearly a decade that DACOWITS has been used to aggressively push a feminist, politically correct agenda that placed the military at risk. 

Supporters counter that without the panel, women would not have been given an equal opportunity to serve their country. 

Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.Mex., a former Air Force officer, met with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz on Wednesday to push for the charter's re-authorization by the Feb. 28 deadline. 

"As a veteran myself, I know that women in the military need opportunities to express concerns without fear of reprisal from their chain of command," she said. 

As Fox News reported last month, defense officials had indicated the charter would be re-authorized, but also that it was being re-evaluated along with 34 other defense advisory panels. Defense officials decided to wait until the evaluation was done before appointing a new head to the panel or scheduling any future conferences.

Washington insiders suggest that no-nonsense Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wants to modernize the panel to deal with more pressing needs facing females in the military today. 

DACOWITS consists of some 30-40 civilian advisors who regularly visit military bases at home and abroad, and then report back to the Pentagon with recommendations for integrating women into the service. 

The panel's priorities through its history document the changing role and influence of women in the nation's armed forces. 

In the spring of 2001, committee members demanded more diversity training, better health care for the 200,000 women in the Armed Forces (nearly 15 percent of the total), as well as services for pregnant women. 

The panel has also recommended placing women in fully integrated combat and special forces assignments. 

Elaine Donnelly, executive director of the Center for Military Readiness, has been critical of DACOWITS for many years. She said this week that the time is right to revaluate the mission of the panel, which she believes has led the military into a dangerous direction. 

"Many things have changed since 50 years ago, when DACOWITS was founded and women numbered fewer than 2 percent of the military," she said in a written statement Thursday. "If the committee's charter is allowed to lapse, a sigh of relief will be heard at military bases worldwide and on all the ships at sea."